Syrian opposition back out of peace talks after UN invites Iran to attend

‘Geneva II’ conference could be in jeopardy after UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon invites Iran to preliminary meeting

In a major blow to the prospect of peace in Syria, the country’s main opposition group has said it will not attend talks in Geneva unless the UN retracts its invitation to Iran.

This morning it was announced that the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon had come to an agreement with Tehran after extensive discussions with the Iranian foreign minister Javid Zarif.

Yet while Mr Ban said President Bashar al-Assad’s key regional ally “needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis”, the move seems to have put this week’s conference in jeopardy after more than a year of planning.

Ahmad Ramadan, a senior member of the western-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), accused Iran of “invading” Syria by coming along to a meeting ahead of the so-called “Geneva II” talks, and said the rebel group would be “suspending” its own participation as a result.

Mr Ramadan said the SOC will not be going to the conference “if the situation does not change”.

Geneva II was set to be the first face-to-face meeting of the two warring factions at the heart of the Syrian conflict.

Yesterday Mr Ban called an impromptu press conference to announce that Iran would be playing “a positive and constructive role” at preliminary talks in the Swiss city of Montreux in Wednesday, before the main conference begins in Geneva two days later.

He said Iran is among 10 countries recently added to a list of 30 invited to attend the Montreux meeting that will precede talks between Assad's delegation and Syrian opposition groups at the UN’s European headquarters.

The US and Russia, which have been organising the preliminary meeting at Montreux, had been unable to agree over Iran’s attendance.

Mr Ban said he had been assured by Mr Zarif that Iran “ understands that the basis of the talks” is the full implementation of a road map to peace outlined by the US, Russia and other major powers in Geneva in June 2012.

He urged the Syrian parties “to keep one goal in mind: the end of the suffering of the Syrian people and the beginning of a transition to a new Syria”.

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